Determining Your Tree’s Watering Needs
We’ve had a wet April, which means your trees are getting plenty of water! But the transition from spring to summer can be a tricky time to determine when to water your tree. Come this time of year, we recommend watering once a week when the weekly rainfall is less than one inch. But you might find yourself wondering, “when did it rain last?” (You can check here!)
Too much watering is the most common mistake, but consistent watering is crucial to getting these young trees established. A good way to know if your tree needs water is to check the soil. Stick a garden trowel or even a pencil 2-3 inches into the soil. If the soil at that depth is dry to the touch, then your tree is ready to be watered.
Once the dry season settles in, watering once a week is a good schedule (pick a day to water and keep it up!). Deep watering is best for these newly planted trees. Give 10-15 gallons at a time. Water slowly so that moisture soaks deeply into the soil and water doesn’t run away from the root zone. Mulching is a great way to hold water in the soil for your new trees.
“I always say that roots are infamously “lazy” and grow in response to mild stress, just like human muscle,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land. “We lift weights to encourage human muscle growth, whereas we water deeply and hold off for a week to encourage roots to follow that water downward, which helps establish sinker roots to fend off future drought.”
Trees and perennials have more vast root systems that hold up for the long haul, and they need deep and infrequent watering. Flowers and annuals need more daily and superficial watering, which just doesn’t work for a tree. Tree roots are growing 12-18″ down and just don’t get enough benefit from daily irrigation that is intended to water lawns.
Either a gator bag, hose on a gentle trickle for maybe 20 minutes, or a 5-gallon bucket with three 1/8″ holes drilled on the side at the bottom and filled 2-3 times consecutively works great. It’s a good practice to move the bucket around the tree each time you fill it to ensure that the whole root system gets water. Think of it this way: we’re trying to simulate a rain storm, during which all parts of the root system will get water at about the same time and rate.
It’s important to note that dry and hot are two different things. In late spring and early summer, we may get some seemingly perfect weather, and you don’t think to water your tree because it isn’t hot outside. But regardless of temperature, a dry spell is characterized as 2-3 weeks without significant rainfall. It might not be hot out, but your tree still needs a drink!
If the temperature gets over 90 degrees, bump your watering schedule up to twice a week. If we see another heat “event” coming, a good, deep soak beforehand can help the tree survive.